181. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Laird to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • NSDM 117 and the Delegation’s Draft Strategic Arms Limitation Agreements

I am absolutely persuaded that any strategic arms limitation agreement we enter must be specific, precise, and as free of loopholes as possible. We must assume pragmatically that ambiguous and weak [Page 566]provisions will be exploited by the Soviets. We should assume, on the other hand, that we would have to comply more literally with the spirit of any agreement we enter. An imprecise or weak U.S. proposal would likely indicate to the Soviets a general weakness in our position. I believe it imperative, therefore, that the draft agreement we table in the near future be as precise as possible and contain provisions which will make the letter of the agreement correspond to its spirit.

To implement the principles of precision and specificity, we should demand definitions of ABM components that (1) are precise, (2) set forth characteristics of the elements defined which are observable by our national means, and (3) complement other desirable provisions that may be difficult to negotiate. Paul Nitze’s definition of ABM components2 meets these criteria to a greater extent than any other definition so far tabled. I was gratified that you used his definitions in NSDM 117 to exemplify the type of definition we need. I have been informed that some members of the Delegation prefer less precise definitions. I recommend that Paul’s definitions be used, subject to any changes we can all agree make these definitions more responsive to the criteria outlined above.

We need to address, also, whether deployment of large powerful phased array radars, not clearly ABM associated but with the potential to support large ABM deployments, (“other large phased array radars,” by Paul’s definitions) should be subject to mutual agreement or only to “consultation”. Such radars are needed only to detect and track many small objects like RVs at very great distances. This makes them appropriate mainly in ABM systems, early warning systems, and as intelligence collectors. An arrangement which would require us to agree to Soviet deployments of such radars would close a loophole which would exist if only “consultation” were required. Through such a loophole the Soviets could, by widespread deployment of such radars, seriously undermine our confidence in an ABM agreement. This would be a potentially tragic outcome for the United States after paying such a high price in foregone defenses to obtain an ABM limitation. I recommend that, at least as an opening position, our draft agreements contain a provision requiring mutual agreement before such radars can be deployed outside areas in which ABM radars would be permitted by the agreement.

A last point which I wish to mention is the sweeping requirement of NSDM 117 that all ABM components should be prohibited except those specifically permitted. This approach conceptually would limit devices such as “ABM kill” lasers and particle generators which at this time are only future possibilities as ABM components. However, such a provision would also limit some possibilities we might later find attractive [Page 567]and useful. For example, we might be able to build a light area defense against unsophisticated attacks by using an infrared satellite to provide early tracking information to long range interceptors. But this possibility would be prohibited if infrared satellites could not be used as ABM system components. I believe it is wise to ban deployment of devices which could replace ABM interceptors; I do not believe such a ban should be so sweeping, however, that it covers such things as optical sensors. I recommend that alternative two for paragraph two of Article 6 of the draft ABM agreement, as presented in SALT 794,3 be adopted.

Mel Laird
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 881, SALT, SALT talks (Helsinki), Vol. XV, May 1–July 1971. Top Secret; Sensitive. Kissinger initialed the memorandum indicating that he saw it.
  2. See Document 175.
  3. Document 175.